"The Puppeteer"By Christine Stoddard
The garage, dank and dim that December afternoon, opened to a small yard. Pigeonbrown hedges and wilted flowers peeked out from the fence encircling the gray garden.Slabs of plywood flattened the grass, hiding the fact that Peter had unintentionallysprayed most of the vegetation blue. Blue footprint-shaped stains graced the garage'sdoorstep and floor, leading to a skinny man and his cluttered workbench. The manhunched over a smattering of wood, paint bottles, and tools. His elbows wagged up anddown as he tinkered with a screw. Peter wiggled the screwdriver until the screwplummeted on the table with a tiny
. Peter sniffed in deeply, as if his nose soughtthe stench of drying paint."Smelling paints kills neurons, you know," Peter's mother always said. "That's why youshouldn't spend so much time in the art room after school. Besides, you always comehome dirty. Get here as soon as you can. Or go to George's house. But I'm tired oftrying to get paint out of your clothes."Nodding submissively, Peter flung his blue (or red or yellow or green) hands behind hisback. "Okay, Mom," he said."You know your father's trying to get a promotion at work. And with the boss living nextdoor, Peter, and him seeing you everyday, well...what will he think of your father ifyou're always running around like a little painted savage?"Peter stared his mother blankly.His mother sighed. "Oh, Peter. I just mean...please try to act more like the other kids,okay?" She leaned in toward her son and tapped the tip of his nose. "Remember, artistsalways have hard lives. I don't want you ending up poor." The nervous woman shifted inher armchair and smiled at Peter. Her left eye twitched.When she picked up her crossword puzzle again, Peter scurried back to his room. Heclosed the door silently behind his boyish frame. Then he whipped around. Before hecould stop himself, his fingers danced over the drawers and the few shelves he couldactually reach. The search for crayons, felt, yarn, markers, and clean paper hadcommenced. Within minutes, stickers, glue sticks, googly eyes, pom-poms, andenvelopes littered the floor. Anything from cut-out animals to colorful dioramas to minicomic books somehow came out of the random shreds and strings he pulled together.When he finished, Peter shoved the creations under his bed, in his closet, under thefloorboards, in the attic--anywhere his mother would not immediately find them.